The government has approved the Czech-American Status of Forces (SOFA) Agreement which provides a legal framework for US soldiers on Czech soil. Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanová made the announcement to journalists on Wednesday, adding that the treaty is now ready for US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates to sign in London on September 19. The SOFA agreement lays down the terms by which US soldiers would operate at a proposed radar base in Brdy, Central Bohemia. Negotiations on the agreement’s wording have taken months longer than originally expected due to clauses on American soldiers’ tax status.
The first arrests have been made under a new law which bans the downloading of child pornography in the Czech Republic, Mladá fronta Dnes reported on Wednesday. Seven people have been arrested and could face up to two years in prison under the new law, the daily added. The law, which came into effect at the end of last year, will be difficult to enforce, experts say, because it is hard to prove that suspects willfully and knowingly downloaded child porn onto their computers.
A Brno court has started hearing the case of two families whose babies were accidentally swapped at birth. The Čermák and Broža families are seeking six million crowns (350,000 USD) each in damages, after nurses at Třebič hospital mixed up their daughters at birth. The hospital at fault has offered the couples 300,000 crowns (17,500 USD) each in compensation. The accident was discovered late last year and the children in question were swapped back shortly before their first birthdays. On the first day of proceedings, both parties were given a chance to negotiate a settlement, though none could be reached. The trial continues.
The head of the Czech National Library, Vlastimil Ježek, has been sacked. Culture Minister Václav Jehlička dismissed Mr Ježek on Tuesday, amidst an ongoing feud surrounding plans to build a new National Library building. Mr Ježek has responded to the move by saying he doesn’t understand on which grounds he was dismissed. The former library head is a fervent supporter of architect Jan Kaplický’s winning design for a new National Library building, to which the Culture Ministry is opposed. The construction of Mr Kaplický’s design has been put on hold while politicians argue over the competition rules that allowed the design to win.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek said on Tuesday that he would step down as leader of the Civic Democratic Party unless it pushes through an internal clean-up and reforms. Mr Topolánek’s comments come in the midst of a blackmailing scandal which has sent shock waves throughout the right-wing party, exposing bitter divisions and already causing one MP to resign. The scandal erupted when one party deputy agreed to buy compromising photos of a rebel party colleague, which it turned out had been staged and were part of a media sting.
In related news, Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova has said that the Czech Lower House should start debating next month whether to station a US anti-missile defence shield on Czech soil. Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has already signed an agreement with American Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice approving the project, but this agreement needs to be ratified by the Czech parliament before construction can actually start. Plans to build a US radar base in the Czech Republic are controversial, with over 50 percent of Czechs against the idea. In parliament, the government can expect a hard time pushing the treaty through, with some of its own coalition MPs adamantly opposed to the base, and other still unsure which way they are going to vote.
Two scientists found guilty of illegally collecting insects in India were sentenced by a Darjeeling court on Wednesday. Petr Švacha was released by the judge, who cleared the 51-year-old of blame, while Mr Švacha’s colleague Emil Kučera was sentenced to three years in prison. Mr Kučera immediately appealed the verdict. The two entomologists were arrested in the Singalila National Park on June 23 and charged with poaching rare and valuable insects from the reserve.
A senior Russian general said on Wednesday that Moscow was considering pointing its missiles at a proposed US radar base to be stationed in the Czech Republic. Czech and American delegates have already signed a treaty paving the way for a US anti-missile defence shield in the Czech Republic, with accompanying interceptor missiles to be housed in Poland. On Wednesday, the head of Russia’s strategic missile forces, Nikolai Solovtsov, told local press that the Czech Republic and Poland may now be chosen as ‘designated targets’ for Russian ballistic missiles. The Czech parliament still has to approve plans for a US radar before its construction can get underway.
Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek was sent back to the drawing board with his draft 2009 budget on Wednesday, when MPs told him to add an additional 700 million crowns (40.1 million USD) to the coffers, to be generated by the sale of government assets. According to Mr Kalousek, the sale of ministry property will not help reduce next year’s predicted budget deficit of 38.1 billion crowns (2.2 billion USD), as funds raised will now be spent in other areas. Mr Kalousek said that he would review the Regional Development and Education Ministries’ budgets in light of the revenue generated by the sales. He added that he expected the government to approve next year’s budget within the next fortnight.
The share of Czech students graduating from university has grown slightly according to a report by the OECD. However, the country still falls far beneath the OECD average. According to the organisation’s figures, the OECD average for higher education within the population is 27% - the Czech figure is 14%. The Czech figures have been rising slowly for the past number of years, but analysts argue that much more needs to be done. OECD figures also suggest that the Czech Republic lags in the amount of spending per pupil – the average is 6.4% of GDP spent on education, while in the Czech Republic, the figure is 4.6%. University spending per student is also below the average of 16000 USD per student, with the Czech Republic only spending 6000 USD per student.
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